Speech by CS at HKETO Berlin Gala Dinner (English only) (with photo)

     Following is the speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, at the Gala Dinner organised by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (ETO) Berlin in Berlin, Germany on May 20 (Berlin time):

Ambassador Shi (Chinese Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, Mr Shi Mingde), Members of the Parliament, Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman,

     Guten Abend. ("Good evening" in German)

     I am delighted to be here in Berlin. This is indeed my first visit to this wonderful city.

     First of all, I thank the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (ETO) Berlin for organising this Gala Dinner. I am very pleased to have this opportunity to meet with you this evening and I am very encouraged to see so many of you here to enjoy this get-together.

     The Berlin ETO is the youngest member of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government's overseas economic and trade offices and I could claim a little credit in its establishment. I was the Director-General of our London ETO between 2004 and 2006. Back then, our only other offices in Europe were in Brussels responsible for all EU member nations and Geneva, which is our representative office to the World Trade Organization. This meant London apart from looking after Hong Kong-United Kingdom bilateral relationship was left with an extensive geographical coverage of another 16 countries from Norway to Malta. I floated the idea of opening a new ETO to serve this region and Berlin was the ideal location. The choice was obvious as Germany is a long-time friend and key trading partner of Hong Kong.

     With the support of the German Federal Government and the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Berlin, our Berlin ETO was officially opened in March 2011 with full diplomatic credentials. Since then our Berlin Office has done a great job in strengthening the connections between Germany and Hong Kong at the business-to-business and government-to-government levels. Indeed, my visit is just the latest in a long line of high-level official exchanges in both directions between Germany and Hong Kong.

     Germany is much more important to Hong Kong than just a partner for trade and finance. German people are a great source of ideas and enterprise in Hong Kong. German engineering supports massive infrastructure development that is ongoing in our city.  German designs enhance our way of life and quality German brands give us a "feel good factor" whether we are behind the wheel of a car, relaxing at home or dining out with friends.

     The opening of the Berlin ETO also opened the door wider for Hong Kong to reach markets not just here in Berlin but also across Germany, and not just across Germany but also deeper into Central and Eastern Europe.

     I believe that good timing is a critical element in any relationship, including the relationship between Germany and Hong Kong.

     My visit to Germany comes at an important time for our bilateral ties. Just a few weeks ago, in March, our nation's President Mr Xi Jinping visited Berlin and highlighted the importance of the business links between China and Germany. The strategic partnership between the largest economy in Asia and the largest economy in Europe is of great importance to all of us.

     Germany is already Hong Kong's largest trading partner in Europe with some 13 billion (HK$129.6 billion) worth of bilateral trade last year. At the same time, Hong Kong is a highly efficient and reliable gateway for German exporters to reach huge markets in the Mainland of China and across Asia. In 2013, 9 billion (HK$92.5 billion) worth of trade between Germany and Mainland China was routed through Hong Kong.

     Hong Kong is a relatively small place with a landmass of some 1,100 square kilometres. That is not much larger than Berlin's city area of almost 900 square kilometres. Yet we have a population of more than 7 million people, roughly double that of Berlin. We also welcome tens of millions of visitors annually. Last year alone, we received over 50 million visitors, more than half of whom came from Mainland China. This influx of eager consumers makes Hong Kong an excellent place to showcase German brands to a large and diverse audience.

     German enterprises are familiar with Hong Kong's user-friendly business environment with an effective rule of law, low and simple tax regime and free flows of capital and ideas.  For us, low taxes means salaries tax capped at 15 per cent and profits tax of no more than 16.5 per cent. There is no inheritance tax, no capital gains tax and no VAT or GST in Hong Kong.

     German companies can take advantage of our cross-boundary free-trade pact with Mainland China called the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, or CEPA. CEPA was launched in 2003 to lower, or eliminate, the barriers to trade in goods and services between Hong Kong and Mainland China. We expect to achieve full liberalisation of services trade between Hong Kong and Mainland China by the end of next year. Each year since 2003, CEPA has been expanded and now includes over 400 liberalisation measures and covers a wide range of service areas. Because CEPA is nationality neutral, German firms that are incorporated in Hong Kong can use CEPA to gain tariff-free entry into the Mainland market for goods produced in Hong Kong and preferential treatment in accessing Mainland China's services sectors. In other words, CEPA can help boost the trade ties not just between Germany and Hong Kong but also between Germany and the whole of China.

     Hong Kong has been ranked as the world's freest economy for each of the past 20 years by the Heritage Foundation in the US. This is important to us because it highlights the successful implementation of the "One Country, Two Systems" principle for Hong Kong's return to China in 1997.

     Under "One Country, Two Systems", Hong Kong people run Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy. We maintain our own financial system separate from that of the Mainland. We have our own currency, the Hong Kong Dollar, with a Linked Exchange Rate System between the Hong Kong Dollar and the US Dollar since 1983.

     We also have our own legal system. In Hong Kong, the common law system is underpinned by an independent judiciary. Our Court of Final Appeal has the power of final adjudication in Hong Kong. We provide a trusted platform for dispute resolution and arbitration services and we have a robust intellectual property protection regime.

     Ladies and gentlemen, in slightly more than a month's time, on July 1, we will mark the 17th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China. The challenges and opportunities brought about by Hong Kong's return to China in 1997 are sometimes likened to those of Germany's reunification in 1990.

     The fact that both Germany and Hong Kong have prevailed and risen to the challenges and grasped the opportunities during times of great change; legal, social and economic change, speaks volumes for the spirit of our people and their confidence to succeed.

     An important element of Hong Kong's ongoing development is constitutional reform, which is a hot topic for our community at this time. The Hong Kong SAR Government is committed to achieving universal suffrage for the selection of the Chief Executive in 2017 in line with our constitutional document, the Basic Law, as well as the relevant decisions and interpretation of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, the legislative body of our nation. We will maintain dialogue with all stakeholders, in particular Members of the Legislative Council, with a view to enabling all eligible voters to choose the next Chief Executive through "one person, one vote" in 2017.  

     As you may imagine, taking forward the constitutional development of Hong Kong is not an easy process. There are many different views in our community on this important subject. The Hong Kong SAR Government is determined to deliver its constitutional responsibilities by forging consensus on a proposal that is agreeable to the Central Authorities, the Hong Kong SAR Government, the Legislative Council and the people of Hong Kong.

     Ladies and gentlemen, I have fond memories of my time working in Europe out of our Economic and Trade Office in London. I learned a lot about this continent and made a lot of friends. I also remember the atmosphere of excitement in the summer of 2006 when Germany successfully hosted the soccer world cup. When I arrived in Berlin on this visit, it was difficult to escape the fact that World Cup fever is once again in the air. I wish Germany a very successful World Cup campaign starting in Brazil next month. No doubt, your national team will receive vocal support from our German community in Hong Kong as well as in the many German restaurants and bars across our city.

     I also look forward to strengthening the bond of friendship between Germany and Hong Kong, not just through the fine work of our colleagues at the ETO, Berlin, but also through the spirit of our people and our determination to strive for a brighter future.

     Thank you very much.

Ends/Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Issued at HKT 02:17